Cryptid Profile: Pink Eye - The North Saskatchewan River Monster
The North Saskatchewan, an 800mi (1287km) long river that runs through the Canadian Rockies and (through a few connections) into the Hudson Bay. The largest shared river system between Alberta and Saskatchewan, the N.S.R. starts at the Saskatchewan Glacier and passes through Edmonton, the capital city of Alberta. Due to its length, the N.S.R. is a major trade route and also makes up the largest urban river valley parks system in North America. With depths ranging a little over 6ft in certain areas to well over 60ft in others during the flood season, the N.S.R. is a fantastic home to over 12 different species of fish and brings countless amounts of people out onto the water to enjoy, boating, fishing, river rafting, and of course, the occasional monster sighting.
The river monster, which was given the moniker of Pink Eye after eyewitnesses claimed the creature had reddish-pink colored eyes after surfacing, has had numerous sightings scattered along the N.S.R., but the best documented of those have taken place near the city of Rocky Mountain House, and the confluence of the N.S.R. and Clearwater River.
The first major recorded sighting took place in April of 1939 near Rocky Mountain House and involved a Cree First Nations chief by the name of Walking Eagle. As Walking Eagle was crossing the N.S.R. on his horse pulled wagon, a large creature that he described as having “horns instead of ears and eyes as big as dinner plates” surfaced from the depths behind him and started moving quickly toward his wagon. Upon seeing the beast approaching, Chief Walking Eagle drove his horses out of the river faster than normal and watched the beast sink back below the surface after he was safely on dry land.
Stunned at what he had witnessed, but still curious as to what it truly was, Walking Eagle needed a second look. As he stepped back into the river, the creature surfaced yet again, only this time it did so with a wide open mouth and a quick “swishing” movement that propelled it directly towards him. The beast once again caused him to flee the water and in doing so, caused the creature to sink back below the surface. This second look though gave Walking Eagle a better view of the creatures features and went on to describe it as such, “the thing had no tusks or long trunk, but its head resembled that of an elephant.”
Three years later, Pink Eye made another appearance near Rocky Mountain House and gave a group of boys quite a shock. On July 22, 1942, a group of boys swimming in the N.S.R. saw an odd looking log bobbing up and down in a little lagoon under a bridge. Doing what boys do best, the group gathered handfuls of rocks from the riverbed below them and started throwing them at the log as a sort of game. But what the boys didn’t expect, was that their innocent game would soon turn into a real nightmare. As the boys took turns challenging one another to hit the object, one stone finally hit its mark. After being struck with the rock, the object once believed to be a log started thrashing around in the water and turned itself around to face the area where the boys were standing.
The boys, in chest deep water, stood frozen in fear as they watched the prior object of their game swim towards them with intent. Not wanting to get any closer to the creature than they already were, the boys scrambled out of the water and ran as far from the edge of the water as fast as possible. The beast, moving quickly and not far behind, followed them all the way to the shore and even “climbed” halfway out of the water and thrashed back and forth snapping its jaws at the boys before sliding backward and sinking into the greenish-brown water. The group described the beast as “huge, ugly, and gray” and possessing “eyes as big as headlights and a mouth full of sharp teeth this could easily crush a boy.”
Later that same year, Pink Eye chased another pair of swimmers from the water. A young man by the name of Jimmie Richardson spoke of how he and another boy fled the water after a creature as large as vehicle rushed towards them and sent them scrambling for shore. Richardson described the beast as having grayish-black skin, a large bony head, and red looking eyes. It also snapped its jaws a few times at the pair as they stood on the shore before it slid back into the river and out of view.
It was around this time farmers in the area around Rocky Mountain House and Edmonton began noticing that sheep had started to go missing from their farms. One sheep from a farm on one side of the river, two from a farm on the other side, small numbers at first, but an overall total that quickly grew. As the riverside farmers in the area grew more and more concerned about what was stealing their sheep, some began reporting that their calves had also started going missing. While many around the area instantly believed that Pink Eye was to blame for the disappearance of the livestock, it wasn’t widely agreed upon until search parties who had formed to look for the animals discovered partially eaten bodies along the river's edge. One searcher even reported witnessing what appeared to be the back end of large gray creature sliding back into the water as the search party approached an unspecified area a few miles away from the affected farms. The body of a lamb was said to be floating on the surface of the river before quickly being pulled under by some unseen thing.
Finally, on October 18, 1946, four years after the area livestock had started to go missing, Pink Eye proved itself as the culprit. While out walking his property and checking on his livestock, farmer Robert Forbes witnessed a truly horrifying sight. There at the shoreline, Forbes watched as a large, gray colored creature that was nearly 20ft long, grabbed a calf that was close to the water's edge in its mouth and started pulling it back into the river. Not sure what to do and relying purely on instinct, Forbes grabbed a handful of rocks and began to desperately throw them at the creature in hopes of getting it to drop his calf. But, seeing as the creature was so large and the stones were so small, Pink Eye paid no attention to the attempt and made off with the calf without issue. In addition to the color and size, Forbes described the creature as having red colored eyes, horns on the side of its head, and a large mouth filled with many sharp teeth. A description that matches those of both Chief Walking Eagle as well as the two groups of swimmers that were chased from the water.
Last but not least, near the end of 1947, a pilot in training with the Scottish Royal Air Force who was visiting the area made a sighting of an unknown creature while walking along the banks of the N.S.R. The report states that while out walking, the man came upon an odd colored and strange looking log butted up against a brush pile at the edge of the water. Curious, he prodded the brush pile with a large stick he had found in hopes of pushing the log back out into the water for a better view. But, like with all the stories listed above, the pilot's situation turned into something rather unexpected.
After being poked, the “log” thrashed a bit in the water and swam backward to pull itself out of the brush pile. After doing so, a large head rose up out of the water, turned away from the shore, and made its way back out into the river. But what makes this sighting completely different than the previous ones, is that the creature was not alone this time. The pilot reported that as the creature backed out of the brush pile, a much smaller yet similar looking creature emerged and followed the larger one back into the deeper parts of the river. The man described the two creatures as being gray in color with large, wide heads and large eyes that were reddish-pink. He believed that the smaller of the two was the baby of the larger one.
Now that we have gotten the major reports taken care of, let’s move on to the theories of what this creature truly is. The first and most widely believed theory is that Pink Eye really is a large aquatic river monster, one that is possibly in the same circle as Canada’s most famous water serpent, Ogopogo (who is said to reside in Okanagan Lake in British Columbia). While these two may not be the exact same species, they may be part of the same family (the scientific classification). The reason for this belief is that the two differ in appearance just enough that it’s hard to believe they are the same thing, Ogopogo is said to be anywhere from 15-40ft long with a horse or goat-like head, ear-like horns, a snakelike body, and bluish-brown skin with a patchy mane of hair. Pink Eye is only reported to be around 20ft with a large bony head like that of an elephant, reddish-pink eyes the size of headlights, horns, a large mouth filled with sharp teeth, and grayish-black skin.
Now, if you don’t believe that Pink Eye could actually be a real creature, there are some theories out there that you may prefer. The first is that Pink Eye is actually nothing more than a swimming moose. Many people do not know that moose can actually swim and even fewer have ever seen one do so. But when they do, they can appear quite freighting. An extremely large, hairy wet head with gigantic antlers slowly making its way across a body of water can appear quite monstrous to those who don’t know what they are looking at. Add in not being able to see the rest of the body due to the color of the lake or river water and it’s easy to see why someone may instantly jump to the conclusion of a lake monster. To add to this theory, moose are often seen traveling over land and through bodies of water with their calves in tow (depending on the season), so this could be the explanation for situations where witnesses claim to see multiple river monsters a once. They are not seeing a large serpent, they are seeing a wet moose with its baby.
If the moose theory doesn’t work for you, you can always go with the large misidentified lake sturgeon one. These fish are bottom feeders and can grow to lengths over 7ft and weigh over 240lbs. Their skin is bony and plated and usually gray or brown in color, much like what the witnesses described Pink Eye as having. They have one of the longest lifespans of any fish and can live well over 100yrs, and that fact is on record as a 152yr old, 215lb, 6ft specimen was pulled out of Lake Ontario back in 1953. Since this fish has not changed much in the past 200+ million years it’s been around, it has been referred to as a living dinosaur. And if one fish can live to be over 150yrs old, there is no telling how many quick sightings of it led to someone claiming they saw a monster.
Finally, there is the last theory, and this one may bother a few people (although it’s more than likely the correct one). This is not the result of a misidentified known creature, but rather a full-blown hoax. There are a few researchers who have dug into the Pink Eye story and believe the whole thing was created by a woman named Grace Schierholtz, a woman who was a reporter for two local daily newspapers (The Journal and The Calgary Herald) and the editor of one local weekly newspaper (The Mountaineer), all three of which were distributed in Rocky Mountain House. The reason that some researchers believe this theory is that Grace Schierholtz was the first person to report on Pink Eye, and continued to be the sole author of every newspaper article about it after. It is thought that Grace was looking to bring some fame to her home of Rocky Mountain House and thought the best way to do so was to jump on the aquatic monster bandwagon that Ogopogo had created. So she created the story of Pink Eye and slowly grew the legend with fake sightings and encounters. Some claim she even went so far as to have friends toss old logs into the N.S.R. and take photos of them as evidence which she would then run in the papers as fact. But then again, this is all just a theory.
Could Pink Eye be real, or is it nothing more than a hoax perpetrated by a woman with an offbeat sense of humor? The only way to know for sure is to go take a swim in the North Saskatchewan River. Only then will you know for a fact if that large-headed animal with horns coming straight at you is a wet moose or a hungry monster.
-The Pine Barrens Institute
*Image Credit: https://reneelammers.com/blog/26109/december-18-2010-moose-swimming-photos